Japan PM launches climate plan

Industrial waste facility in suburban TokyoTOKYO (AFP) – Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, vowing a “low-carbon revolution” against global warming, on Monday unveiled a carbon trading market to slash greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent by 2050.

Defying resistance from business leaders worried about Japan’s fragile economic recovery, Fukuda pledged to take the lead before he hosts the Group of Eight summit of rich nations in one month.

Fukuda called for Japan to cut carbon dioxide blamed for global warming by 60 to 80 percent from current levels by 2050, and to introduce an experimental “cap-and-trade” system that mandates emission reductions.

The leader of the world’s second largest economy likened the effort to the Industrial Revolution.

“I believe that we need to make an effort to create a low-carbon revolution so that our descendants 200 years from now will look back and be proud of us,” Fukuda said.

Fukuda said Japan would next year set a mid-term target — the hotly debated topic of ongoing international negotiations — for slashing emissions after the Kyoto Protocol’s obligations for rich nations run out in 2012.

The move comes just days after lawmakers from US President George W. Bush’s Republican Party blocked a plan to set up a cap-and-trade system in the world’s largest polluter, saying it was risky at a time of high oil prices.

Carbon trading has become a flourishing field, particularly in the European Union which has championed the Kyoto Protocol and called for ambitious mid-term and long-term emission reduction targets.

Fukuda gave few details about the carbon market but said it would be launched on an experimental basis — “as early as this autumn” — and he called for “the participation of as many sectors and companies as possible.”

The premier also called for a tenfold increase in Japan’s use of solar power by 2020 and pledged a fresh 1.2 billion dollars for a fund being set up with the United States and Britain to help developing countries cope with climate change.

Some environmentalists said the effort did not go far enough.

Kathrin Gutmann, climate policy coordinator of conservation group WWF, said that the announcement was “blurred” and that the lack of a 2020 target was “utterly disappointing.”

Fukuda was “playing a numbers game to avoid a commitment to deep emission reductions,” she said. “Fukuda will have to announce a clear mid-term target soon.”

Negotiations on a post-Kyoto treaty have been bogged down by disagreement over the mid-term target, with developing countries insisting that rich nations historically responsible for climate change must take the lead.

Japanese industry, particularly steelmakers and the power industry, have in turn feared the economic costs of a cap-and-trade system and noted that Japan is already more energy efficient than most countries.

Industry has also argued that the 1990 base used to set Kyoto obligations is biased towards the European Union since at that time many future members were heavy polluters in the communist bloc and Britain had not finished privatising its coal industry.

Fukuda agreed with industry on the point, saying: “The action plan won’t be successful unless we make changes based on the latest data.”

Naoyuki Hata, director of Kiko Network, a Japanese environmental organisation, expressed concern, noting Japan’s emissions had risen significantly since 1990.

“I cannot help thinking he was influenced by industry, which simply prefers not having to reduce emissions,” he said.

But Jean Jouzel, a French climate expert who is on the executive panel of the UN’s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), praised the initiative.

He said that even though Japan’s carbon emissions have risen rather than waned since 1990, such a large long-term cut would more than compensate for it.

“So it’s a good effort by Japan,” he told AFP in Paris.

The IPCC has warned that unless human-made climate change is halted, the world risks more natural disasters and droughts, putting millions of people at risk.

Fukuda is taking the decision despite sagging popularity at home, with his coalition losing another election on Sunday and the opposition preparing a censure motion against the government.

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